Hendrik van Balen’s interpretation of the Rape of the Sabines in a newly discovered work
Hendrik van Balen’s interpretation of the Rape of the Sabines in a newly discovered work
Although Van Balen paints them in mirror image,
the two figures resemble each other in their longhandled spear, the arrangement of the arms and
the upper hand, and the prone position of the
vanquished enemy who still holds a weapon. In
addition, the gesture of the aged father at the
left edge of Van Balen’s painting who combs his
long beard with his fingers recalls Michelangelo’s
monumental Moses (fig. 14). It is also possible that
for the central couple, Van Balen intended to refer
to Pietro da Cortona’s Rape of the Sabines, with its
dramatic motif of a Roman grasping a woman
with both arms around the hips and raising her,
while she bends her legs and lifts her arms in
distress, baring one breast in the process (see fig. 9).
Furthermore, the composition based on three major
groups in the foreground, with secondary scenes
behind, stems from such Italian prototypes as the
relief at the base of Giambologna’s statue and the
painting by Pietro da Cortona. In short, Van Balen
includes references to Italian Renaissance works in
his painting, in part to demonstrate his knowledge.
Fig. 14 / Michelangelo
Buonarroti, Moses, ca. 1515,
marble, h. 235 cm, Rome,
San Pietro in Vincoli.
Art produced in seventeenth-century Antwerp often
referred to the art or artists of that city. Long ago
Julius Held concluded that Willem van Haecht’s
rendering of an Antwerp art collection, The Gallery
of Cornelis van der Geest, dated 1628, “expresses
something of the pride and the deep affection which
its owner appears to have felt for his native town”
(fig. 15).66 It features a painting by Quentin Massys,
believed at that time to be a founder of the Antwerp
school, and portrays contemporary works, including
one by Van Balen. The living figures depicted in
the painting reveal Van der Geest’s social circles,
which included Flemish aristocrats as well as
Antwerp painters. Whereas Rubens and Van Dyck
discuss paintings with collectors, Snyders and his
teacher Van Balen stand on the far right, just below
the statue of the Farnese Hercules, engaged in a
conversation concerning a globe.67
Fig. 15 / Willem van Haecht,
The Gallery of Cornelis van
der Geest, 1628, oil on panel,
100 x 130 cm, Antwerp,


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